The scenes on the streets of London were more reminiscent of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem at the height of the intifada than the genteel center of the British capital at the height of tourist season. Fear, panic and distress spread through London as the scale of the horror from Thursday morning’s rush- hour bombings became clear. Jewish leaders were quick to condemn the atrocities while trying to reassure a community that feared it might become a target.
A spokesman for the Board of Deputies, the representative body of Anglo Jewry — whose headquarters, near the site of one of the four explosions, were rocked by the blast — said the board was following the situation closely and working with the Community Security Trust, the body that monitors threats to U.K. Jewry, to ensure the safety of Britain’s Jews.
“On behalf of the Jewish community, we express our deepest condolences to the people of London following this outrage,” he added. “Today’s events underline the fact that terrorism is a global scourge. Just as we are all potential targets, we must together do everything possible to confront this evil wherever and however it manifests itself.”
No Jewish or Israeli casualties were reported among at least 37 people killed and 700 or more injured when bombs exploded on three subway trains and a double-decker bus. But the Trust warned the Jewish community to be “extra vigilant” in the wake of the attacks.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said it was “reasonably clear” that the attacks were the work of terrorists.
A group linked to Al-Qaida claimed responsibility, saying the attacks were retaliation against Britain’s “Zionist” government.
“Rejoice, Islamic nation,” read a message posted on an Islamic Web site. “Rejoice, Arab world. The time has come for vengeance against the Zionist crusader government of Britain in response to the massacres Britain committed in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Blair said the attacks were designed to coincide with the opening of the G-8 summit in Scotland. They also came a day after London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics.
“Whatever they do, it is our determination that they will never succeed in destroying what we hold dear in this country and in other civilized nations throughout the world,” he said.
Queen Elizabeth reportedly said she was “deeply shocked” by the attacks. The Union Jack was flown at half-mast over Buckingham Palace.
The Jewish community initially feared that the intended target of the attacks was Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to speak at a financial conference minutes away from where the first bomb exploded, on a train near Liverpool Street Station.
Mark Scodie, a journalist for London’s Jewish Chronicle, was on the scene as the crisis developed.
“I left Liverpool Street a minute after the explosion,” he said. “As I got to the top of the escalators, an alarm went off, and British transport police ran in.”
“There were loads of police, absolute pandemonium,” Scodie said of the scene outside the station. “Emergency vehicles constantly going past, and the police taped off the main road. The survivors looked stunned.”
El Al’s London office and the Israeli Ministry of Tourism were immediately evacuated. A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy, which allowed no one in or out of the building, said, “We are shocked by the callous terror attacks in London this morning. Our thoughts are with the people of London and the families of those affected.
“Israel is offering any assistance as may be required by the British authorities in dealing with the horrific events today.”
Jewish chaplains were preparing to provide support to anyone in need. Rabbi Martin van den Bergh, head of the Jewish Emergency Support Service, a unit established to respond to major incidents, said he has been on call since he was alerted by the Trust immediately after the first blast.
“We are monitoring the number of Jewish dead and injured, but at the moment we have no figures,” van den Bergh said. “I am in contact with the major hospitals where the injured and dead have been taken, and I am on call. It’s a waiting game, but if they need Jewish input, we are there.”
Other Jewish religious leaders expressed horror at the attacks.
“These terrible events have brought home to us the full evil that terror represents,” said Britain’s Orthodox chief rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks. “It is not the weapon of the weak against the strong but the rage of the angry against the defenseless and innocent. It is an evil means to an evil end.
“I will be asking all our congregations to say special prayers for the victims and their families this Sabbath,” he continued. “We grieve for the dead, pray for the injured, and share our tears with the bereaved.”
A spokesman for the Federation of Synagogues said letters had been sent to all the group’s shuls asking that psalms be said for the bombing victims.
“The scope of today’s tragedy cannot be described in mere words,” the federation said in a statement. “Although at this point in time it’s unclear who is to blame for these barbaric acts and the identity of many who have been killed is still unknown, whether Jew or non-Jew, the pain must be shared by all.”
A representative of the Movement for Reform Judaism said prayers would be said in shuls around the country.
“Such behavior passes beyond all belief and comprehension,” said the Reform movement’s head, Rabbi Tony Bayfield. “At a time when the leaders of the world are gathered to discuss the eradication of poverty, we witness a grim demonstration of the fact that terrorism is the enemy of the poor and dispossessed just as much as of the Western world and the established order.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.